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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, December 08, 2018 1:00 am

Furthermore ...

Ex-school chief's ties to contractor rankle Gary lawmakers

Former state schools chief Tony Bennett disappeared from Indiana's education scene after his 2012 re-election defeat. Even when he returned to the state after a brief stint in Florida's top education post, Bennett kept a low profile.

But his name surfaced where he is not welcome – Gary, Indiana. A subsidiary of the consulting firm he's now associated with has been paid nearly $4.2 million to manage the distressed Gary Community School Corp. Gary lawmakers Vernon Smith and Eddie Melton have called for the contract with MGT Consulting Group to be dissolved, charging Bennett played a role in creating the school district's financial problems.

“It can be reasonably argued that Tony Bennett played a substantial role in putting Gary schools into the mess that it finds itself by championing policies that treated public schools like second-class citizens in favor of charters, vouchers and home schools,” Smith said.

“While it has been more than five years since Bennett held the post of superintendent of public instruction, the harm he did during his four years in office lingers to this day. He was anti-public schools, anti-student, anti-teacher and anti-everything that didn't have to do with benefiting the education-for-profit industry.”

The Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board contracted with Gary Schools Recovery LLC, a subsidiary created by Tallahassee-based MGT Consulting Group to operate the school district. The emergency management firm can earn up to $3.9 million a year by meeting performance targets set in the state contract.

The CEO and chairman of MGT is A. Trey Traviesa, a former Florida legislator with ties to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who helped Bennett build his national profile as an education reformer before allegations surfaced that the Indiana superintendent changed the school letter-grade for a charter school sponsored by a campaign contributor. Bennett also was accused of misuse of public resources during his unsuccessful re-election campaign.

The Times of Northwest Indiana cited documents showing Bennett is a partner at the Florida-based Strategos Group, which comprises half of MGT of America LLC, and MGT of America Consulting LLC. An MGT spokeswoman told the Merrillville newspaper Bennett “is not and has never been a member of the emergency manager team in Gary.”